KATHERINE DRAKE CHIAL
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FLATTENED

EVANSTON ART CENTER
CELEBRATING OVER 75 YEARS OF CREATIVITY
2603 SHERIDAN ROAD • EVANSTON, IL 60201 
WWW.EVANSTONARTCENTER.ORG • 847-475-5300

FEBRUARY 26 - APRIL 2, 2006

KEITH 0. ANDERSON     KATHERINE DRAKE-CHIAL 
ALISA HENRIQUEZ     JASON SHELBY     FRASER TAYLOR

Flattened presents the work of five artists of diverse cultural backgrounds who reinterpret the Utopian vocabulary of modern abstraction by using a variety of processes that bring the imperfections of the real world into their work, challenging the preeminent goal of abstraction — pure, ivory-tower flatness — as espoused by the modernist critic Clement Greenberg. Literally coming off of the wall or up from the floor, or creating dynamic visual separations through the layering of faux flattened shapes appropriated from popular sources, the works in Flattened broaden abstractions ability to communicate to wider audiences by incorporating the wrinkles and creases found in everyday existence.

Born in the United Kingdom, Fraser Taylor comments on the nature of his dislocation from a native landscape through the metaphors of his island-shaped drawings and paintings. Dark and encrusted with collaged fragments of his clothing and other unidentifiable seams and protrusions, Taylor's irregular ovals refuse to be viewed as something capable of transcendence. Instead, they extol a gritty reality as their hybrid of human and natural contours appears to shrink and expand with the forces of unseen psychological tides. The isolation in Taylor's work is particularly palpable in his large mixed media works on paper that hover above the gallery floor on low platforms. Existing somewhere between the mediums of sculpture, found object, and drawing, these works demonstrate Taylor's ability to imbue scarred surfaces of tar-like blacks and distressed greys with the spirit of the debris field of a forgotten coastline at low tide, miring the viewer in the residue of human passage.

Keith Anderson also recognizes the power of reconfiguring humble materials to express the intangibles of culture and landscape that shape identity. Previously, this artist has used match-heads, scorched cotton-balls and black-eyed peas to create minimalist works that transform history and myths into poetic ruminations on personal and cultural history. In his new installation created for this exhibition, Anderson fills one of the gallery walls with a thousand black painted wood clothespins. From a distance, the clothespins create a subtle field of rhythmic abstract marks. Yet, it is the specificity of the individual found form that he has chosen to work with that disrupts the meditative nature of this composition. A symbol of the monotonous and demeaning domestic roles African-Americans were relegated to during and after slavery, the clothespin in Anderson's hand becomes a human surrogate, symbolizing strength and resilience. In this mural-sized installation, the unique gesture of the individual artist's hand, so central to modern abstraction since the Abstract Expressionists, has been replaced by the collective weight of a thousand anonymous gestures that quietly make themselves heard with a resounding authority.

   Katherine Drake-Chial demonstrates the dilemma of creating such authority with a personal artistic gesture in a postmodern world that views such demonstrations of expressions with cynicism. She meticulously replicates accidental drips and pours of pigment as part of a feminist deconstruction of the macho gestures of Jackson Pollock and his imitators. Walking a tightrope between deliberation and improvisation, Drake-Chial upends, figuratively and literally, the serrated rivulets of strategically placed arcs of brush strokes that visually activate atmospheric backgrounds of canvases that are worked on by the artist from all sides.

Displaying strength and delicacy, agitation and calm, these sweeping marks evade easy classification as they submerge the truth between layers of strident color harmonies that evoke the territorial graffiti found on the steel delivery doors of urban alleys. It is Drake-Chial’s ability to seemingly disconnect herself (emotionally and physically) from her gestures that allows these highly flattened compositions to retain an injection of discomfort that projects beyond the safety of paintings vocabulary and into the dysfunctional absurdities of life.

The formal quality of flatness and its conceptual relationship to life's uncomfortable overlapping relationships are examined by Alisa Henriquez and Jason Shelby in their works which mine images and patterns found in, and inspired by, popular culture. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, Henriquez has in previous work manipulated fragments of kitsch commercial fabrics and their designs to expose the fallacy of neutral decoration in defining contemporary culture. She continues to look for hidden meanings in rich conflations of geometric, organic and cartoon shapes. Working with transparent watercolor washes and saturated passages of gouache and ink, Henriquez creates Popish palimpsests that resemble existential, rain-soaked funny pages which require the viewer to repeatedly read between the blurred lines to uncover definitive meanings that appear, ultimately to seep through ones fingers. The softness of Henriquez's evocative bleeding contours are contrasted by Shelby's crisp edges and translucent layers of origami folded shapes that capture the hypnotically deceptive nature of virtual reality and the computer screen. The meticulous finish and internal luminosity of his paintings' cool surfaces hold the viewer at a distance, implying the absence of human touch. But it is the deftness of Shelby's applications of understated transparent hues that convey a definitive human presence which beckons the viewer to visually unfold and assemble his compressed, translucent shapes of mysterious forms. While modernism originally saw abstraction as offering a new, improved reality, the artists in Flattened demonstrate that abstractions richness lies in its inescapable human flaws.

John Brunetti, Curator

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